B.C.'s budget deficit lower than forecast at $5.5 billion: finance minister

VICTORIA — COVID-19 is battering British Columbia's economy and the provincial government's bottom line, but the effects of the pandemic haven't been as bad as earlier feared, says Finance Minister Selina Robinson.

B.C.'s public accounts, which cover the 2020-21 fiscal year that ended March 31, show better budget numbers than originally forecast and stronger growth than much of Canada has experienced, she said Wednesday.

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The deficit of $5.5 billion has come in almost $3 billion lower than was forecast for 2020-21 and the projected economic growth rate is above the national average, Robinson said at a news conference. The final numbers record a budget deficit of $5.46 billion compared to the original forecast of almost $8.2 billion.

The strength of B.C.'s economy helped keep the province's finances on stable ground, said Robinson.

"I'm pleased to say that given the uncertain times that we were all dealing with this last year, the year-end provincial financial statements look significantly better than our worst-case scenario projection," she said.

Economic growth in B.C. declined 3.8 per cent last year, but outpaced the national average, which dropped 5.3 per cent, said Robinson. The province's jobless rate of 8.9 per cent was also lower than the Canadian average of 9.5 per cent, she added.

Robinson said she expects to lay out a plan in next year's budget that outlines how the province will return to future surpluses.

"It will take time to get back to balance, and that's our commitment, to get back to balance," she said.

The budget released in April for the 2021-22 fiscal year forecasts a deficit of $9.7 billion, followed by at least two more years of billion-dollar deficits.

Robinson also said in April it could take seven to nine years before the province has another balanced budget.

Opposition Liberal finance critic Mike Bernier said the documents show the need for an economic recovery plan, which the New Democrat government has failed to implement.

"We've known for a year-and-a-half that in addition to impacting public health, this pandemic has been costly to our economic future," he said in a statement. "The NDP had plenty of time to prepare a plan to deal with the post-pandemic reality and get our economy back on track, but they have nothing to show for it."

Robinson said the public accounts show B.C. spent more than $10 billion on COVID-19 response and recovery programs, which included funding for health and shelter as well as economic supports and benefits.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2021.

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